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Education entrepreneur joins Gates giving pledge

Sunny Varkey

The founder of the million-dollar Global Teacher Prize is to become the first education entrepreneur to sign up for Bill Gates’s campaign for philanthropic donations.

Sunny Varkey, the Indian-born founder of the GEMS education business, is joining the Giving Pledge.

This is a commitment made by the extremely wealthy to give away most of their money to philanthropic causes.

Mr Varkey said he wanted to support the “vital cause” of education.

The Giving Pledge was set up five years ago by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, his wife Melinda Gates and investor Warren Buffet as a way for the mega-rich to use their wealth for good causes.

Tech billionaires

Including Mr Varkey, 137 individuals or families have made this commitment to give at least half of their money to philanthropic projects – including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Richard Branson of Virgin and one of the wealthiest technology entrepreneurs in the US, Larry Ellison.

Bill Gates Warren Buffett

Mr Gates’s own foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has become one of the world’s biggest donors, so far giving grants of $33.5bn (£22bn).

Mr Varkey becomes the first education business owner to join this club of wealthy philanthropists – and he says he wants to target funds at helping families in developing countries unable to access good quality education.

According to the most recent rich list estimate by Forbes, Mr Varkey is worth $2.1bn (£1.38bn).

The GEMS business began with a single school in Dubai, opened in the 1960s by Mr Varkey’s mother and father, who were teachers from Kerala in India.

The group operates schools in 14 countries, concentrated mainly in the Gulf, but also across the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe and the United States.

‘Immigrants to a new country’

The Varkey Foundation, set up as a charitable arm, has created the Global Teacher Prize, designed to raise the status of teaching.

First Varkey school in Dubai

The next round of applications opened last week for a $1m (£660,000) prize to be awarded in 2016.

In his letter making the pledge, Mr Varkey writes: “I have been fortunate that I grew up in a family where charity was ingrained in us from a very early age.

“We were immigrants to a new country, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“Even, when my father earned a small amount, a large percentage was shared with the community we lived in, sometimes at the cost of our own comfort.

“To this day, our underlying philosophy remains that good giving ‘pinches’, meaning that the sacrifice you make, has to be felt, else, the act remains just another financial transaction in our lives; and therein lies the appeal of the Giving Pledge to us.”

Among those also announcing that they were joining the Giving Pledge was Sir Ian Wood, chancellor of Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, who had built up businesses in North Sea oil industries.

Mr Gates said he wanted to “intensify” the process of philanthropy.

“It’s exciting to see people becoming bolder and more thoughtful in their giving,” he said.

“This is about building on a wonderful tradition of philanthropy that will ultimately help the world become a much better place.”

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